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Georgia challenges Russia to renounce force

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Georgia challenged Russia Wednesday to match its own pledge not to use force in their simmering territorial conflict, five years after Moscow defeated its former satellite in a lightning war.

"There are irreconcilable differences, and we all know where they lie. In the position of the Russian Federation, which does not feel obliged to make a unilateral pledge, and to reciprocate Georgia's efforts," Georgian negotiator Gocha Lordkipanidze told reporters after peace talks in Geneva.

Fellow negotiator David Zalkaliani said "progress in our endeavour can be possible to achieve only if the Russian side makes a unilateral, legally-binding declaration on non-use of force".

Russia's delegation did not speak to reporters.

Georgia and its giant neighbour went to war in August 2008 over breakaway South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two pro-Russian regions of Soviet-era Georgia which split away after the USSR crumbled in 1991.

Russia, which deployed troops there in the 1990s, recognised them as independent after the war.

Georgia still considers them its territory, but in 2010 renounced force as a solution.

It reaffirmed that stance after last October's parliamentary election victory of tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili -- who got rich in Russia and fiercely opposes the anti-Moscow rhetoric of pro-Western President Mikheil Saakashvili.

But Moscow has failed to follow suit.

Under the auspices of international mediators, the two sides have held 24 rounds of their so-called Geneva International Discussions, the most recent on Tuesday and Wednesday.

After talks in March -- the first since October 2012 -- the mediators said Russia and Georgia were edging to a joint declaration on renouncing force.

But there appeared to have been little movement this time.

European Union mediator Philippe Lefort flagged concerns over new fences and trenches along the breakaway regions' borders.

The talks also focus on missing persons, refugee returns and access for residents and aid across the ceasefire line -- hence the border concerns.

"We've had difficulties on a certain number of points, but we mustn't dramatise them," insisted Lefort.

"We're still discussing seriously about fundamental issues to transform this conflict, notably on a commitment by all sides on non-use of force... It's a peace process that's making progress overall," he said.

United Nations mediator Antti Turunen called the talks "open and frank", with a new round set for October.

"What is important is that there's a continuation of the commitment by all participants to continue discussions," he said.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130626/georgia-challenges-russia-renounce-force